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'Rich In Iconography' : Lecturer Will Shed Some Light On Cathedral's Stained Glass

February 22, 1986|RICK VANDERKNYFF

Malcolm Miller, a guide and lecturer at France's renowned Chartres Cathedral for nearly 30 years and an authority on medieval iconography, will speak Sunday at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Corona del Mar.

Miller first went to Chartres' 13th-Century Gothic cathedral, south of Paris, as a student of French at England's University of Durham. He was supposed to stay a year and complete his final honors paper: "I did not go there with intention of staying there; naturally, at 20, 21, you don't know what you want to do with your life," Miller said in a telephone interview.

After finishing his studies, Miller spent his summers as a guide at the cathedral. "Although I did other things in my early years, like teaching, I always came back to Chartres," Miller said. "I never spent a year of my life without spending at least part of that year in Chartres."

From Easter to late November, Miller gives two public lectures daily, in English, at the cathedral. He has become a recognized authority on the iconography of Chartres--the complex stories told in the cathedral's famous stained-glass windows and facade sculptures. He has written three books on the cathedral, and in 1985 completed a six-part documentary for British television on medieval stained glass. The series begins airing in Great Britain in March, and Miller said he hopes that the shows will eventually air in the United States.

Miller said his interest in iconography evolved naturally. "Well, that's because Chartres is so rich in iconography. From the moment I decided to guide, I really had to know something about what the building meant: What do all these extraordinary stained-glass windows mean and why are they there? I had to find the answers to these questions, and I'm still learning.

"My usual comparison is with a 20th-Century city library, where there's so much knowledge that no one person could assimilate it all, even in a lifetime. That's how one feels in Chartres Cathedral, because there's so much there."

Miller has lectured regularly in the U.S. since 1972, and now spends about two months each year touring and speaking in North America. "It can be from the National Gallery in Washington to high school groups," Miller said of his audiences. His lectures focus on Chartres Cathedral's 12th- and 13th-Century stained glass and sculpture.

"I carry Chartres Cathedral in my suitcase, in a sense," Miller said of his lecture tours. "I have thousands of slides, so I have almost the same choice that I have at the cathedral.

"What I like to do, and I might do it in Corona del Mar, is take a single subject, let's say the Last Judgment, and detail by detail show how it's represented in glass and in sculpture."

Sunday's lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. For information, call St. Michael and All Angels, (714) 644-0463.

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